People who shine from within don’t need the spotlight.
Lyle and Carol Brons knew there was something a little different about their daughter when she was five years old. One day while her older brother, Dustin, was throwing baseballs up to himself and hitting them, Dayna Brons thought it would be a good idea to sneak up and tell him a secret. The result was devastatingly predictable. Just as she leaned in, Dustin followed through on his swing and hit Dayna square in the middle of the forehead with the bat. The date was May 21, 1998. Carol remembers it so well because it was Dayna’s fifth birthday.
Dayna popped up and ran into the house and it was off to the hospital where she and her mother spent her fifth birthday in the emergency room. Dayna later got five stitches that left a permanent scar. “She was a little precocious, but she was also a tough kid,” Carol Brons said. “She wasn’t a whiner.”
Those qualities would serve Dayna Brons well through the years, but no more so than when she became the athletic therapist/equipment manager for the Humboldt Broncos Jr. A hockey team. The players would tease her mercilessly, often crowding around her in a diner on the road to sing Happy Birthday to her when it wasn’t her birthday, just to embarrass her. She performed pre-season concussion testing, did therapy, sharpened skates, ordered and repaired equipment. Leroy Haugen, the father of Broncos coach Darcy, still talks about how Dayna put his wonky shoulder back into place. During one game, Logan Schatz took a puck in the mouth and, after losing a tooth, was afraid that he was going to swallow another one that had loosened, so she simply pulled his tooth out right on the bench. She would often bring her dog, Butch, a German Shepherd/Rottweiler mix she picked up as a stray at the Humboldt SPCA, to the rink with her.
“They called her the ‘Mother Hen’ and the big sister and that’s how she was with the boys,” Carol said. “When they’d get out of line, she’d try to put them back in line, and yet she could roll with the punches and take a joke pretty good.”
Dayna Brons was the only woman on the Broncos bus on April 6, 2018, the day it was slammed into by a semi-trailer truck carrying peat moss on a Saskatchewan highway, fewer than 20 miles away from the arena in Nipawin where they were travelling to play Game 5 of their second-round playoff series. Of the 16 people on that bus who died, Dayna Brons was the last one. The other 15 died at the scene or shortly later in hospital, but Brons was airlifted to a hospital in Saskatoon where she fought for five days before her family made the agonizing decision to take her off life support. As the one-year anniversary of the accident and their daughter’s death looms, Carol Brons has thrown herself into planning the one-year reunion for the families, but both she and her husband have found a higher calling. Along with Chris Joseph, who lost his son, Jaxon, in the crash, they are using their daughter’s death to crusade for a mandatory overhaul on trucking regulations across Canada.
They’ve joined forces with Pattie Fair-Babij of Alix, Alta., whose husband was killed in 2017 when the truck he was driving was hit by another semi driven by an inexperienced driver. They’re calling for new, tighter and more accountable regulations to be put in place for an industry that requires less training than what most hairdressers have to take. As much as they’re out of their own comfort zones in using their newfound notoriety, the Brons have realized this is a cause that is now theirs. It was foisted upon them, to be sure, but it is one they are prepared to see through. “I really didn’t realize how broke the system really was before,” Lyle Brons said. “I used to be a truck driver, too, and I knew there were bad drivers out there, but I really didn’t know how bad it was. I’ve been away from it for a few years and it’s gotten worse out there from talking to other guys who are out there. The system is broken and it needs to be fixed.”
Backed by Kelly Block, the Brons’ Member of Parliament in Saskatchewan, the petition currently has more than 5,000 signatures and is due to be closed in mid-May to coincide with National Road Safety Week. They already have enough signatures for it to be read in the House of Commons and to be brought before Transport Canada, but are hoping to get support from all over the country. (You can see and sign the petition by going to the Broncos’ website, www.humboldtbroncos.com, and then go to ‘Road Safety Petition’ which links to it, or by Googling ‘House of Commons petition e-2005.’) The petition is lobbying for four main changes to how truck drivers are taught and licensed, creating a national standard that will replace the haphazard regulations and inconsistencies that are currently in place. They are:
- Regulate the Class 1 commercial licensing process to be considered a nation-wide skilled trade of professional drivers.
- Modify the National Occupational Classification Code (NOC) to give individuals the opportunity to qualify for funding to support their training. The upgrade to a trade will increase the costs of educating future drivers from about $3,000 to $10,000, but by being classified a trade it would qualify for more funding. “I hear people say that it will now cost drivers $10,000,” Fair-Babij said. “But guess what? My husband’s funeral cost $10,000.”
- Develop and implement a common mandatory entry-level training curriculum and a graduated licensing system for Class 1 licence candidates. This would prevent scenarios such as the one with the Broncos, where the driver was woefully unprepared to drive the truck he was operating and did not have enough experience in it.
- Require licensing bodies to collect and store information on the training provider and duration of training to be associated with the record of each commercial driver. This would essentially force the driving schools to be accountable for the students they teach.
It doesn’t sound terribly unreasonable, which gives the Brons and Fair-Babij some hope that something will be done. But they also realize that there will be a federal election in the fall and this will likely be put on the back burner. But they know they’ve pushed the agenda to the point where it’s in the public consciousness and that’s important, too. The Brons feel as though they owe it to their daughter, the third of their four children, one who was quiet and shy at first, but had a way of drawing people to her.
She found a way to bring people to her.
– Carol Brons on her daughter, Dayna
“She wasn’t one of these people who walked into a room and everybody gravitated toward her, but she found a way to bring people to her,” Carol said. “You couldn’t pinpoint why, but from almost every age, she knew how to talk to them and engage them so they wanted to be near her.”
Dayna didn’t quickly share her dreams, but she often joked that she wanted to one day be the athletic therapist for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. She played every sport as a child and excelled in all of them. She climbed trees as a kid, but she wasn’t a classic tomboy. Carol said it would be pretty difficult to pigeonhole her with just a couple of words. She last gave blood on March 8, 2018, less than a month before the accident and she would grow her hair long and cut it so she could donate it to make wigs for cancer patients. When she wasn’t working with the Broncos, she would spend her summers in Saskatoon, where she worked with lacrosse players. She received her final certification from the Canadian Athletic Therapy Association last May, less than a month after she died.
“She loved running through the corn. I don’t know why,” Carol said. “We had two rows of corn in our garden and she’d run with her arms outstretched. She did that in 2017, the last summer she was alive.”
The most lasting testament to Dayna Brons is the legacy she left behind. The University of Regina, Mount Royal University and the high school she attended in Lake Lanore, Sask., have scholarships in her name. The Canadian Athletic Therapy Association has a bursary that it gives to new graduates. And the Saskatchewan Roughriders, where she interned for six days, also established a scholarship.
“I was talking to some of the players and they said they remembered her,” Carol said. “How do you remember this 5-foot-4 person who worked with you for one week? She was the girl on the bench. Not to say she was the first girl on the bench to make an impression, but she never seemed to waiver when it came to run out there and do something.”
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.